Delta County Planning Commission will take another look at the proposed Garnet Mesa Solar project during its regular meeting on Jan. 12.
According to the meeting agenda, the planning board will consider a motion to rescind its approval for a Limited Use Permit on behalf of the Garnet Mesa Solar Renewable Energy Project made previously on Nov. 17, 2021.
Last November, the Delta County Planning Commission voted 6-3 to recommend approval of the Use Permit for the renewable energy facility and refer the matter to the Board of County Commissioners for approval or denial.
During the Nov. 17 meeting, the commission gave approval for Limited Use Permit for the installation and operation of a 80MW ground mounted solar photovoltaic energy generating facility. The project involves two sites consisting of three parcels totaling 472+ acres generally located west of 2200 Road and at the southwest corner of G Road and 2100 Road, approximately 2.2 miles east of Delta.
According to information in the Jan. 12 meeting packet, Planning Director Carl Holm sent a follow up letter to the applicant identifying the next steps, including a request for information prior to scheduling the matter before county commissioners.
At the planning commission’s regular meeting on Dec. 8, 2021, Board President Tom Kay called for a special meeting to be held on Dec. 15 involving an executive session regarding follow-up information received relative to the solar project.
During the open session, Commissioner Jacob Gray disclosed a potential conflict and recused himself from any further consideration regarding the solar project. Holm said Gray originally voted in favor of the Limited Use Permit.
At the Jan. 12 meeting, the planning commission will consider two options regarding the project.
The first option is the consideration to rescind the Nov. 17 decision. If the motion passes, it would trigger a new hearing on the project to take place later in the meeting. Planning commissioners would have the option to approve or deny the Limited Use Permit. If during the new hearing, commissioners vote down the permit, it will still move to county commissioner level.
In the second option, where the motion to rescind fails, the matter would move forward to the Board of County Commissioner with the original recommendations.
“It still goes forward. It will go forward with a recommendation for denial, or a recommendation for approval with conditions,” said Holm.
After looking at the complicated procedural piece, Holm said the other big issue to consider is the actual ‘use’ for the project.
“It is a commercial solar facility which isn’t specifically addressed in the Land Use Code which is why I referred it to the planning commission and the Board of County Commissioners,” he said.
“The Land Use Code just speaks to renewable energy as Limited Use. I felt that that was probably more for your private solar facilities, there really isn’t anything in the Land Use Code for commercial facilities,” said Holm, adding that the county’s master plan does list goals for encouraging renewable energy including commercial use.
The county master plan contains a map of where the projects could potentially take place.
“And this (project) is in one of the high potential areas for locating solar. The other thing is that when you have a commercial solar facility, locating it is limited because it needs to have close proximity to the infrastructure such as major transmission lines,” Holm added.
Guzman Energy and DMEA chose the current location based on topography, soil conditions and sun exposure as well as the proximity to transmission lines and while the benefit for the power company is obvious, Holm said there could be benefit to some local construction companies.
“Bigger picture for DMEA, it will help keep the prices down for a little bit for consumers. DMEA did discuss a little bit about how that structuring works. From a sustainability perspective, renewable energy is something in the planning world that we are trying to do,” he said.
One homeowner in the area expressed concerns regarding the aesthetics of the project interfering with scenic views. While the planning process does take all public concerns into consideration, Holm said the current code doesn’t place a high priority on aesthetics. The solar project, if approved, will require some landscaping.
“All we can do is mitigate, try and minimize it as best we can, but the Land Use Code has a zoning that says ‘this is what you can do in this zoning district’ and it doesn’t really take into account what the neighbor sees or doesn’t see,” Holm said.
Lisa Young is a staff writer for the Delta County Independent.